Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mom's the word

Is anyone else as sick of the cult of Momism as I am?  Just wondering....  And plan to write more about it soon, because you can't spit without hitting a story about childbearing, child raising, child yearning,  breast feeding, child feeding, and the ego feeding of the me-me-me-me-mom who either wouldn't be complete without her young 'un or flaunts what a bad mother -- excuse me, mom -- she is because, well, because she wouldn't be complete without her young 'un (who -- surprise! -- can drive her nuts).

And now, God help us, we have "Tiger Mother" (points for 'mother' over 'mom') who, if nothing else, knows her PR.    I haven't read her book and limit my intake of the spate of commentary on it, but she seems to share a belief with other uber-moms that they can build a better child -- and live to write about it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The money hole of Iraq-Afghanistan

The total cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 to the present: $1.125 trillion.

(The  National Priorities Project Cost of War site breaks that down all sorts of ways -- per person or taxpayer in the U.S., per state, per city.  Ashfield, the tiny town I once lived in in western Massachusetts -- pop. about 1,800 -- is in for $9.4 million.)

Imagine what else we could have done with that money!  I mean it: let's imagine.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

not even a thousand?

WashPo's Dana Priest has once again done excellent work on digging into the spook world, including the tidbit that Homeland Security doesn't even know how much it's spent on state fusion centers, which were set up to prevent terrorists from slipping through the intelligence cracks (apparently large enough to drive a jet through).  What can be counted, kind of, are the government organizations at all levels which have been created, or shifted, to do counterterrorism work, since 9/11: 935.  "At least," says the article.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No comment

"I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda [Naval Medical Center] with no legs to be the result of any type of distraction."  Commandant General James Amos, on why he opposes dumping Don't Ask Don't Tell

Monday, December 6, 2010

In freedom's way

I’ve been sending out Freedom of Information Requests for the past 18 months to find out how much and what kind of information the government is keeping on Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Having come of age in the Vietnam era, I assume surveillance, if only  as a matter of course.  I haven’t gotten much back, but I’ve learned a few things so far:

- Everything seems to be going through Homeland Security.  That’s where my requests to the Army, FBI, and Secret Service ended up or got cleared (or not) for release. 

- Govt agencies don’t give up much.  What I’ve gotten usually consists of multiple blacked-out pages – redacted is the official term – with one legible paragraph or a reprint of a news article.  I imagine some poor slob sitting in a tiny, windowless room, fingers permanently stained with black Magic Marker from scratching over line after line of type.  Talk about death of the soul.  But said poor slob is very good; I can’t read what’s been blacked out, even when I hold it up to the light. 

- It takes a long time.  Agencies are supposed to reply within 20 work days and they usually do send a letter telling you they're working on it within that time frame.  It takes a lot longer to get the info, however.  Then there's my request as a journalist for a fee waiver.  DHS denied it in July 2009.  I appealed a month later.  After I emailed them in Feb. 2010, asking for an update, I was informed that they take these things in the order received and I was #497 out of 551 appeals.  I’m still waiting.

- The most material came from what’s known as a fusion center in Maryland.  Fusion centers aren’t physical places; they’re systems for sharing information among law enforcement agencies which were put in place post 9/11, and they’re nigh unto impossible to crack.  My break came when someone put me in touch with a U.S. attorney, who, I think, wanted to prove to me that he really was a friend of the First Amendment.  I sent him a FOIA request and got back a fat packet, including a 42-page compilation of intelligence reports.  It was all redacted, except for a reprint of a WashPo story about an upcoming antiwar march (2 pages).

- Which brings me to perhaps the only surprise I’ve found: It’s possible that Homeland Security has a sense of humor.  The 42 pager, titled, Virtual Roll Call, features on its cover the quotation, “We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know.”  That's attributed to Unknown.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wikileaks and Gossip Grrrls

Does it strike anyone else that the coverage of diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks is much more about their content than the two prior caches covering the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?  U.S. reporting on those centered on how eggregious the leaks were, how mendacious Assange was to hide behind the mantle of journalism (and, by the way, he may be a rapist), and how maladjusted prime-suspect leaker, Bradley Manning is.  Not a whole bunch on what the docs told us about what American forces are doing in those countries or what the bits and pieces add up to.  In fact, pretty good avoidance of anything like that.

Now, we're getting all the juicy chatter, gossip and snarkiness among  statesmen, which (forgive me, fellow free speechites) -- I'm not at all sure we need to know.  Yes, bureaucrats classify way too much stuff by reflex or laziness or desire to avoid embarrassment and, yes, much of what the government keeps secret doesn't need to be.  I haven't read this WikiLeaks dump in detail (don't you wonder who has?), but it's a safe bet that some of the information there should see the light of day, if only as a disinfectant.  (Further evidence of rot in the Afghanistan government comes readily to mind.) Secrecy allows governments to cover their asses, which in turn, allows for corruption.  I'm not convinced, as Charlie Sennott argues on Global Post, that exposing the cables will lead to less transparency, at least not in the long run. 

But I buy the argument that diplomacy is a work in progress and that confidentiality needs to be honored to some degree for negotiations to go forward. Besides, what are we really finding out here?  That some diplomat thinks Sarkozy is an arrogant prick?  Amusing, but not particularly enlightening, And is it really news that we piss Canadians off?

It is juicy and amusing and easy to digest and get indignant about.  Like, as opposed to stuff we need to get informed and indignant about.  So my complaint is that this new collection of leaks has given us the excuse to change the subject -- and change it from a subject that we need to talk about more (and, incidentally, that we could actually do something about).

I used to know a theatre costume designer who claimed that when she wrote her autobiography, she'd call it, "If the Song Doesn't Work, Change the Dress."  I vote for a change of key, not of wardrobe.